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The first weekend of Super Rugby 2016 has come and gone quicker than my salary. A good weekend of rugby it was though. High paced and electrifying rugby was seen. Only three really big victories and 4 games that could have gone either way. Any rugby lover would be happy with the rugby they saw.

The Blues beat the Highlanders but as predicted this one went down to the wire. The Highlanders will kick themselves for the yellow card they received. This probably made the difference in the game. Both sides struggled with kicking at goal. Blues 33-31 Highlanders.

The Hurricanes will look back at the Brumbies game and wonder what happened. Yes they missed a kick or two, but the Brumbies out played them. Even when the Brumbies were down to 14 men, and this happened twice, the Hurricanes didn’t look like they could buy a try. Brumbies 52-10 Hurricanes.

The Cheetahs once again showed us how you can snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Leading 24-3 at one stage, they still managed to lose. True the Jaguars played with 13 men when the Cheetahs scored their tries. Still one would think that when you have a 21 point lead you can build on that. Hats off however to the Jaguars that stuck to their guns. They did not allow the scoreboard to put pressure on them and though before the break. A well-deserved win by the new kids on the block. Cheetahs 33-34 Jaguars.

The Lions travelled to Tokyo and although the Sunwolves had 4 world cup players in their team, the Lions were not overwhelmed at all. The Wolves played good rugby and the Lions did not have it all their own way. Both teams a gain missed crucial kicks at goal. Still it was a good show of running rugby. Sunwolves 13-26 Lions. Both sides still have some work to do going forward.

The Crusaders missed Richie McCaw and Dan Carter. Although they led the game for most of 65 minutes it was the last 15 minutes that mattered. The Chiefs came back and scored two late tries giving them a victory. Missed kicks at goal could have made the result much different but only that it would have given the Chiefs a bigger winning margin. Crusaders 21 -27 Chiefs.

The Waratahs versus Reds game was true to form. Both of these sides can be contenders in Australia and it is always a hard game. The Waratahs made sure of the win in the first half and the Reds were always going to struggle to come back. The fact that they got two yellow cards didn’t help them much. Waratahs 30-10 Reds.

The Force v Rebels game remained true to history. The away side winning although this time it was with a slightly bigger margin than what we have come to expect between these two sides. The Force will rue the mistakes made on the attack as this gave the Rebels just what they needed. In the end a good old contest between two equally strong sides. Force 19-25 Rebels.

The Kings started well but then they just fizzled out against the Sharks. The Sharks were always going to win this one, but I expected much more of a fight from the Kings. The off the field woes of the Eastern Cape side has carried over on to the field. The Sharks can also not read too much into the victory taking into account the opponents. Hopefully the Kings can sort out their problems and rather sooner than later or it will be a long season for them. Kings 8-43 Sharks.

The game of the weekend was the Stormers versus Bulls game and the first half lived up to expectations with the home side leading only 9-6. The second half however was a totally different ball game. The Stormers came out with a vengeance and it showed. The play of the weekend being the driving maul from their own 22. It looked like a freight train without brakes and the Bulls could only look on as it stormed forward. At one stage it looked like the Bulls players falling back was helping the maul move towards their own tryline. The Stormers will be happy with their performance while the Bulls can’t take a lot of positives from the game. Stormers 33-9 Bulls.



The coming weekend sees the kick-off of Super Rugby 2016. A lot has been said and written about the new format and two debutant teams. Pre-season games have been played and many have read into this and what we can expect for the season to come. However until the first weekend is over we will not truly know where the teams stand. Here is a look at what the weekend holds in store for us.

The Blues will take on the highlanders in the opening game of the season. This is always a good game to watch as both teams can rate themselves as contenders for the number 1 spot in the New Zealand conference. The last couple of seasons however both of these sides struggled in the first couple of weeks. Expect some good running rugby. The Blues to take this one purely because they have the home ground advantage. Kick-off at 8h35 SA time at Eden Park.

The Brumbies will then take on the Hurricanes at the GIO Stadium at 10h45 SA time. This is another good match up with two of Australia’s top 3 teams playing against each other. The Hurricanes have never really lived up to their potential in the past, but they have been known to make the front runners stumble. The Brumbies is always a side to watch. Again I will give this to the Brumbies due to the home ground advantage, but they will have to counter the Hurricanes up front. If not they will struggle to win.

One of the games that will have most neutrals pinned to their seats will be the Cheetahs vs Jaguars game. Purely because everyone will want to see what the Jaguars are going to bring to the table. This game should be filled with fast paced action and a lot of running. However the scrum and rolling maul will play a big part as well. That is if the Jaguars will stick to the tried and tested Argentinian style of rugby. Most will give this game to the Cheetahs. But to be honest I see the Jaguars winning this one. This is the perfect game to finish off Friday’s action. Kick-off at 19h00 in Bloemfontein.

Saturday will see an early start for Lions fans. The Sunwolves host the Lions in Tokyo with kick-off at 6h15. This will have many neutrals up early as well. The Lions did not have the best of warmup games but I will not read too much into that. The Sunwolves are an unknown factor. Still if the Lions stick to what they do best, running the ball and using the forwards to get quick ball, they should win this one. Then again we all know what Japan did against the Springboks in the World Cup. I am hoping to see fast running rugby in this game.

The Crusaders and Chiefs game is one of the two games of the weekend for me. The Crusaders has lost some key players and this might impact on them in a negative way. The Chiefs, as we all know, are one of those teams that can have a brilliant game one week and the next look like they have not played together in months. This game will see some good running rugby with hard tackles and lots of turnover ball. This is another game where I am going against the main stream and pick the Chiefs to win.

In Australia the Waratahs and Reds will take each other one. Easy pick is the Waratahs to win. I just can’t see the Reds winning this one. Then we also have the Force and Rebels taking each other on. If history serves t be right the Rebels will win as they are playing away from home.

The Kings vs Sharks game should be an easy pick, but both sides have been going through some of the field issues. The Sharks struggled of last season and unless there has been a monumental mind shift in the squad i don’t believe that it has changed. Management and players are essentially the same. The Kings are in financial crisis and players are begging to get paid. This can’t be good for them either. Still the Sharks should win this one.

The Game of the weekend will end of the action on Saturday. The Stormers take on the Bulls. This is never a high scoring game and kicking should play a big part in the outcome. Still running rugby is always on the cards. The Stormers are under a caretaker coach of sorts and the Bulls have their tails up after some good warmup results. The game however is played at Newlands and it has become extremely difficult to beat the Cape side at home in recent seasons. The Stormers should win this by a slim margin.

Rabodirect Rebels’ Club Captain Davidson to retire at end of season

Inaugural RaboDirect Rebels’ Club Captain Tim Davidson has announced his retirement at the end of the 2013 season, following a distinguished Super Rugby career across three different clubs, and at least 41 Super Rugby Caps to his name.

Although a decorated Super Rugby career with the Waratahs, Force and Rebels, Davidson’s legacy will be within the Sydney Club Rugby Competition, where he captained Sydney University to seven Shute Shield titles, six in succession.

Reflecting on his time as a Rebel, ‘Davo’ admits that the impending conclusion of his career hasn’t really sunk in yet.

“Obviously it’s a pretty special time finishing up here,” Davidson says. “It’s funny, you get an innate feeling that tells you it’s time to move on and you’re ready to choose what’s next, and that’s what I have had.

“I haven’t spoken about it or thought about it too much, but luckily I have a few good mates who are going through the same thing so I’m sure we will spend the time reflecting together when the time comes. I do know that being a foundation member and helping to shape the direction of the club right from the start has been a fantastic experience.”

Damien Hill, who coached Tim at Sydney University as well as the Rebels paid tribute to one of Rugby’s most grounded and popular leaders.

“I’ve been very fortunate that Tim has been part of the teams that I’ve coached over the last eight years,” said Hill.

“Tim’s loyalty and working ethic, make him the perfect role model for all of our young Rebels. He is a proud family man and extremely well respected throughout the Rugby community.”

“Tim is the best young leader I’ve had the pleasure to work with and I’d personally like to thank him for all he has done for the team and the Rebels over the last three years.”

Davidson is one of many leaders leaving the Club at the end of the season, but he believes that the next generation of leaders are ready to assume the mantle.

“I’m extremely confident in the future of the Club,” said Davidson. “Guys like Hugh Pyle, Luke Jones and Cadeyrn Neville are coming into their fourth and fifth seasons as players, and I think there is a good nucleus there that can move the team forward.

“They are on the brink of winning many games, and that bit more experience that they will have will help them win the tight ones. Hopefully the success that we all want will come. Player turnover is an unfortunate part of the game, but with the guys who are staying, the club is in good hands.”

Outside of the game, Davidson has completed a degree in Exercise Sports Science and a Masters in Commerce at Sydney University, as well as working part-time as a pilot since being in Melbourne.

“The Club have been great in allowing me to work one day a week for the whole three years that I’ve been here.

“We are very fortunate to be able to do what we do,” he says. “We are in a privileged position, and being a part of this playing group has been the biggest highlight for me.

“Being involved with the guys, from the initial squad to the one that we have now, has been a huge highlight. I think what rugby is all about at the end of the day is the platform it provides; the ability to build those friendships and carry them on into the future.”

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Rabodirect Rebels plays British & Irish Lions in front of sellout crowd

Media Release, 25 June 2013


The biggest match in the RaboDirect Rebels’ history, has now officially sold out at AAMI Park. There is no standing room available at AAMI Park.

The Rebels play the British & Irish Lions tonight for the first time in our short history.

Head Coach, Damien Hill, suggested that the support of Melbourne would be a huge boost for the team in this once in a lifetime opportunity.

“To have sold all seats at the stadium in only our third year really shows how well Melbourne has got behind the Rebels.

“It’s a huge game for the boys, and I think the support of their city, state and even country will be immensely important for them.

“Our wonderful Members and supporters are known for filling AAMI with their chants, but I would encourage you to be twice as loud tonight.

“Everyone attending tonight has a chance to be part of Victorian Rugby history.”

Jason Woodward, a standout rookie of 2013, and pulling on the number 15 jersey tonight, agrees.

“The support from the crowd will be hugely important,” he said. “Our very loud, patriotic crowds have really helped us throughout the season. Tonight we know it will be chocker block, and we need our fans to be as loud as possible to help us out on the field.”

(c) Rabodirect Rebels

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The RaboDirect Rebels have named their strongest available team for tomorrow night’s historical match against The British & Irish Lions, with Wallaby and recently capped halfback Luke Burgess selected in the run on side.

Burgess’ last start on Australia soil was almost two years ago to the day, with the 37 Test veteran marking the DHL Australian Lions Tour as one of the key reasons for his return home.

“Every Rugby player’s dream is to have the opportunity to play The British & Irish Lions in their home country, and I am very honoured to have been selected to start for the Rebels and get a chance to play them,” said Burgess.

“Having been in Melbourne a couple of weeks now, I have built some solid combinations with this young playing group, and have enjoyed working alongside Nic Stirzaker in the halfback role. Together, we have both been able to apply a game plan that will look to challenge the Lions, and something we are both looking forward to.”

Burgess made mention of the contrasting style between the two continents as a point of difference in his game management.

“European Rugby is a lot different to what we have down under, and I think I can bring an edge to the Rebels’ attack, and control the tempo of the game.

“It’s important we establish this early, as we have seen what they can do when allowed to control the match.”

With Wallabies Kurtley Beale, James O’Connor and Nick Phipps unavailable for selection due to national selection, the Rebels also welcome the return of Hugh Pyle and Jarrod Saffy into the starting XV, after both returning from injury.

Rookie flyhalf Bryce Hegarty returns to the run on side, after missing the Rebels’ previous match due to illness, having started against the NSW Waratahs and Stormers in recent wins.

Melbourne Rebels Head Coach, Damien Hill, said the selection of the Rebels youth was a shining example of the belief the coaching staff and players have in the Club’s future.

“There are many great milestones in this match, not only is it the first opportunity the Rebels have to play The British & Irish Lions in front of our members and fans, but it will be the first match for Cruze Ah-Nau at the Rebels and Luke’s first start at the Club,” said Hill.

“I am very proud of the way Melbourne has embraced the Rebels, and we hope to repay that with a record attendance at AAMI Park, and a historical moment in Victorian sporting history.

“We have been without a number of our high profile players this season but the squad has met these challenges head on with many of the younger members like Bryce, Tom English, Jason Woodward, Jordy Reid, Angus Roberts and Pat Leafa getting their first taste of Super Rugby.

“Their efforts have contributed to a number of excellent team performances this season and they are excited about the challenge they will face together on Tuesday night.”

To celebrate the first ever match between the RaboDirect Rebels and The British & Irish Lions, the Rebels will wear a commemorative strip.

The RaboDirect Rebels to play The British & Irish Lions at AAMI Park, Tuesday June 25, 7:40pm:

1. Nic Henderson, 2. Ged Robinson, 3. Laurie Weeks, 4. Cadeyrn Neville, 5. Hugh Pyle, 6. Jarrod Saffy, 7. Scott Fuglistaller, 8. Gareth Delve (c), 9. Luke Burgess^, 10. Bryce Hegarty, 11. Lachlan Mitchell, 12. Rory Sidey, 13. Mitch Inman, 14. Tom English, 15. Jason Woodward
16. Pat Leafa, 17. Cruze Ah-Nau*, 18. Paul Alo-Emile, 19. Luke Jones, 20. Jordy Reid, 21. Nic Stirzaker, 22. Angus Roberts, 23. Cooper Vuna

*Rebels debut
^Rebels first start

(c) Rebels

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Rebels prepare for British & Irish Lions

It is only seven days until the RaboDirect Rebels take on the British & Irish Lions for the very first time in our short history.

The Tour match will be played on Tuesday 25 June at AAMI Park – just three days after the Lions’ first Test match against the Wallabies – and the Rebels are the last Super Rugby Club to take them on, in what has been a thrilling series for Rugby in Australia.

This is the first Lions Tour of Australia since the Rebels’ inception, making it the biggest year in the history of Rugby Union in Victoria, and the match has the potential to be the biggest crowd in AAMI Park’s history.

Captain of the RaboDirect Rebels, Gareth Delve, had boyhood dreams of playing for the Lions, but now sees himself leading out the opposing team.

“It’s an interesting one, you know it’s a massive opportunity, it’s going to be a huge honour to lead the boys out against the Lions, but obviously growing up it was probably the biggest ambition as a young rugby player to actually play for them, so I suppose, if you can’t join them, try and beat them!

“I’m very excited, it’s really building up now, and I think that watching more games as the Tour has gone on has just kept building the excitement. I think as soon as they hit Melbourne it’s going to be incredible.”

The team have been training hard in preparation for the game, and all are looking forward to their first opportunity to face the Lions.

“I think we’ll go well, the guys have been training really well, we’ve been in for a good few sessions now in the build up and we’ve got a week left to continue preparations and the guys are jumping out of their skins to have a crack. It’s just going to be an incredible atmosphere, full house at AAMI Park, we can’t wait now,” said Delve.

Bryce Hegarty, an EPS player who made his run on debut against the Stormers in Round Fourteen, said both he and his family are very much looking forward to the game.

“We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves so I think we’ll give them a run for their money and hopefully we can get a win.

“Preparation has been awesome, obviously we’ve still got a few days, we’ve got a week until the game. We’re a tight knit group and we all can’t wait to play”.

(c) RaboDirect Rebels

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Media Release, 7 June 2013


The RaboDirect Rebels gone down to the Brumbies, on a cold Friday evening in Canberra.

The Rebels suffered a disappointing 33-20 defeat at Suncorp Stadium against the Reds six days earlier, and had been looking to record their first ever victory at Canberra Stadium with a two and a half week break awaiting them afterwards.

With the British & Irish Lions on Australian soil, both sides featured plenty of new faces with many of their stars on Qantas Wallaby duty. For the Rebels, Nick Phipps and James O’Connor were both training with the national side, and Shota Horie with the Japanese team. Kurtley Beale remained unavailable for selection, while Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle, Bryce Hegarty and Jarrod Saffy were absent due to injury.

Every cloud has its silver lining, and the inclusions of Gareth Delve, James Hilgendorf, Cadeyrn Neville, Nic Stirzaker and Jordy Reid into the starting lineup was an exciting sight for Rebels fans. James King, Pat Leafa and Tim Davidson were also named on the bench for the first time this season, while Angus Roberts returned from injury as a late bench replacement for the virus-stricken Hegarty.

Wallaby scrumhalf Luke Burgess was also on the bench for the Rebels following his return from France, with the 2014 signing given dispensation to play following Phipps’ Wallaby selection, while hooker Ged Robinson was making his 50th Super Rugby appearance.

Nic Henderson had announced his retirement earlier in the day, effective as of the end of the season, so despite the Rebels no longer being in finals contention there was no shortage of motivation to succeed.

In just the third minute, the Brumbies combined after Peter Kimlin broke the line to travel 70 metres as a team and score one of the tries of the season through Scott Sio, though Jesse Mogg was unable to convert the try.

And less than ten minutes later the hosts were in again. Good work from Scott Fardy culminated in former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone diving over in the far left hand corner, and while Mogg’s conversion attempt was again unsuccessful, the visitors were victims of a tough opening on their travels.

A year out of Super Rugby had done nothing to diminish Hilgendorf’s confidence, with a clever chip kick early almost resulting in a try to Lachie Mitchell, and Jason Woodward slotted a penalty goal just after the twenty minute mark to reduce the deficit to seven points as the Rebels began to look more settled in the nation’s capital.

Reid’s speed to the breakdown was a highlight, as was Delve’s tenacity, but with Mogg and Matt Toomua kicking so well in play the Rebels were unable to capitalise on multiple phases and they went in at the break down 10-3.

It took just two minutes after play resumed for Mogg to extend the lead when he slotted a long-range penalty goal, but against the run of play the Rebels scored their first try of the evening when Woodward capitalised on an error forced by a massive Neville tackle on his own goal line.

The Rebels went the length of the field, and when Woodward was dragged down a fantastic offload to Tom English enabled the young winger to score his third Super Rugby try under the posts unopposed, with Woodward slotting the extras.

But the Brumbies were determined to make their early second-half domination amount to scoreboard pressure, and hit back instantly when Toomua’s fantastic cut-out pass set up Rathbone for his second try, though replacement scrumhalf Ian Prior dragged the conversion attempt wide.

And the Brumbies had their fourth try, and the subsequent bonus point, when Henry Speight dissected Woodward and Stirzaker and swan dived over following an unbelievable Peter Kimlin offload; this time Prior made no mistake with the kick.

Faingaa was the next to score a converted try, and Zac Holmes did minutes later; the Brumbies were certainly showing their depth and championship credentials.

But to the visitor’s credit, Paul Alo-Emile managed to cross over for his first Super Rugby try following concerted pressure and repeated pick and drives. Woodward drilled the kick to add some respectability to the score, and when the hooter sounded the final score was 39-17.

Cameo appearances from Burgess, Alo-Emile and Leafa had shown real promise, but an injury to Mitchell further soured a disappointing loss and there was no doubt Damien Hill and his coaching staff would be working the squad hard ahead of their next assignment against the British & Irish Lionson Tuesday June 25 at AAMI Park.

2013 Super Rugby – Round 17
Friday 7 June, Canberra Stadium, Canberra
Kick-off: 19:40
Crowd: 11,055

Brumbies 39-17 RaboDirect Rebels
RaboDirect Rebels – Tries: English, Alo-Emile. Cons: Woodward (2). Pens: Woodward
Brumbies – Tries: Sio, Rathbone, Speight, Faingaa, Holmes. Cons: Prior (3). Pens: Mogg

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Match officials beat Stormers

The Stormers lost to the Rebels in the most bizarre and controversial manner any side could. The Referee and TMO should probably have gotten the “Man of the Match” award as they had more influence on the game than should be the case.

Mike Fraser made more mistakes in the game than Julius Malema made in his woodwork exams. Communication skills is also not something that Mr Fraser is apparently very adapt too. At one point the Stormers asked him if the ball was taken back twice before kicking the ball directly into touch. It was deemed to have been taken back by Fraser, yet he never answered the players. His response when questioned on the awarding of the line-out: “I didn’t say anything.” Yip you didn’t.

Next came a cheeky little play by the Rebels. On being awarded a kickable penalty, they indicated they were going for posts. The kicking tee arrived and the ball was set up. The Stormers huddled together as the kick was to be taken. Jason Woodward saw a gap and kicked the ball from the tee across field towards the touchline for one of his players to chase and score. Mr Fraser correctly stopped the play, but then went on to give Woodward a second attempt at post. His reasoning was that you must make a genuine attempt at goal whenm kicking from the tee. Problem is the laws (law 21.4d) clearly states that that you can’t kick at touch from the tee. A scrum to be awarded to the defending team. Oops. That cost the Stormers 3 points.

The shocker of shockers came with less than 10 minutes left on the clock. After a couple of kicks on a lose ball Martin Bezuidenhout got hold of the ball. He got tackled at the same time and the ball knocked from his hands. A knock-on according to the laws. The ball got kicked through by a Rebels player. Bezuidenhout did hold on to his jersey, but Habana was flying through in defence. Fraser referred it to the TMO. The poor sod must have forgotten his glasses at home as he missed the knock on. He ruled that the player was held back, justly so. He went further to say that there was a probability, key word being probabilty, that a try would have been scored. A penalty try and yellow card to ensue. Now last I checked a penalty try should only be awarded when it is clear that a try would be scored. Not if a probability exists but when certain. Fraser, the on field referee, had the last say, but still went with the call even though he looked confused with the call.

The Stormers ended up losing by 9 points after the Rebels had been given 10 by the referee and his fellow match officials. True the Stormers did elect not to go for posts on 3 occasions which could have seen them draw the game. Silly by them, yes, but not as silly as the calls from the referees. You know the referee is bad when the Australian commentators makes mention of his errors against a South African team.

All of this came after the Stormers were handed a nice big, fat fine by SANZAR for bringing the game into disrepute and calling the match official incompetent during their clash against the Hurricanes four weeks ago. Another game where Steve Walsh and his fellow officials were not at their best. Hopefully SANZAR. Will use this money to educate their referees on the laws of the game as well as the application of the laws.

I will however put my money on the fact that Lyndon Bray will come out on Monday and apologise for the mistake and that will be the end of it. That is if we are lucky.


Rebels 30 – Tries: Scott Higginbotham, Hugh Pyle, penalty try. Conversions: Jason Woodward (3). Penalties: Woodward (3).

Stormers 21 – Tries: Louis Schreuder, Bryan Habana, Andries Bekker. Conversions: Joe Pietersen (3).

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Stormers & Sharks or Rebels & Force?

With only the Kings having a bye this weekend we are in for 7 games of Super Rugby once again. The question this week is who is going to win? Will it be the Stormers and the Sharks or will the Rebels and Force record wins over them? True there are some other great match ups but these two games have made the news a bit more due to the South African teams struggles of late.

Hurricanes v Chiefs
This game is not as predictable as many would think. To me it is as predictable as Cape Town weather. The Hurricanes have shown that they are up for it against some of the better teams this season. The Chiefs are still not at top form and that is what might sink them. It will be a good game to watch if you can. If not catch the highlights later.

Prediction: Chiefs by 5

Rebels v Stormers
Seven changes to the Stormers team while the Rebels are looking the part. As a Stormers supporter I truly hope this weekend will be the one. Tthe Rebels have been unlucky in a couple of games while the Stormers can say the same. Question remains will defence be better than attack this weekend or will we see both sides playing open rugby. If that happens I have to give it to the Stormers.

Prediction: Stormers by a hair.

Force v Sharks
Is there a rift in the Sharks team? They say not and I believe them. That they have more problems than Zuma has wifes is apparent. The force is however in my view not the team to exploit it. The Sharks will rally like a Cosatu march and probably win by a country mile.

Prediction: Sharks by 10

Crusaders v Blues
A classic New Zealand clash. Both sides fighting for a place in the top 6. And if they are lucky a conference win is still on the cards. The Crusaders must be favourites although the Blues are not far behind them.

Prediction: Crusaders by 7

Waratahs v Brumbies
The Waratahs are on a role but Jake’s boys top the log. This game will be one of pride. Australian derby at its best so don’t expect to many tries. Still will be interesting to watch.

Prediction: Brumbies by less than 7

Bulls v Highlanders
Easy pick this one and I never thought I’d say this, but go the Bulls. The Highlanders are struggling and a win by the Bulls will see the Kings stay clear of the wooden spoon. Hopefully the Bulls keep on running the ball and not kicking it.

Prediction: Bulls by 20

Cheetahs v Reds
The Cheetahs will need to play 80 minutes of rugby and improve on the last 10 minutes of their last game. The Reds are out to prove a point and want the top spot back. This will be a game of the Reds kickers against the Cheetahs runners at the back. My money will go on the running game.

Prediction: Cheetahs by 10

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Following losses by less than a converted try in each of their past three outings, the task got no easier for the RaboDirect Rebels as they headed to Auckland to take on a rejuvenated Blues lineup.

Looking to win their first ever match outside of Australia, the Rebels brought Shota Horie into the starting lineup and made history in the process; the hooker became the first Japanese player to start for an Australian Super Rugby team.

Lachie Mitchell replaced the injured Rory Sidey in the 12 jersey, while former Brisbane Broncos junior Bryce Hegarty replaced the suspended Kurtley Beale on the bench as he aimed to make his first start in Super Rugby.

James  O’Connor looked to get the Rebels underway with a long-range penalty goal attempt in the 2nd minute, but while he had the accuracy the distance wasn’t quite there, and he was also unable to make it count when presented with a second penalty opportunity a few minutes later.

And while Blues counterpart Chris Noakes also failed with an early penalty attempt, the hosts did take the lead in the 10th minute when flying winger Frank Halai crossed out wide following a fluid team passing move; Noakes did, though, miss the conversion.

The Rebels haven’t had any problems scoring tries in season 2013 and, at the venue where the 2011 World Cup Final was held, that again proved the case. Ali Williams was one of the heroes for his country on that night two years ago, but when he coughed it up under pressure from Scott Higginbotham, the Rebels took full advantage. Horie made some valuable metres, and the visitors were able to find enough space for Mitch Inman to score in the corner.

The kicking curse continued, with O’Connor missing the conversion, and Noakes also missed when the Blues hit back with another try within five minutes. Francis Saili and Rene Ranger combined brilliantly in the lead up, and although the TMO was called upon, referee Garratt Williamson awarded the try to Saili after he recovered his own kick.

Charles Piatau continued his electric form to set up a second try for Halai with just over a quarter of the match gone, and Noakes was able to finally kick straight and convert the try; the first successful kick from either side in seven attempts.

With O’Connor off the field after succumbing to a chest injury, Saili rapped up the four-try bonus point for the Blues after just 27 minutes, but as they have done in recent weeks the Rebels hit back immediately through Higginbotham when he spotted a small gap to breach the Blues’ defence.

Jason Woodward stepped in for his injured teammate but missed the kick, and O’Connor’s replacement Angus Roberts lasted just a couple of minutes before he dislocated his shoulder and left the field.

The Blues were not done with scoring for the first half yet, with Halai taking over as the competition’s leading try scorer when he shrugged off Cooper Vuna to complete his hat trick following more good work from Saili.

Hegarty had joined the fray and instantly looked at home at this level, while big lock Hugh Pyle and skipper Higginbotham continued to lead the way for the Rebels as they had done in recent weeks. But as the sides entered the sheds at half time, the Rebels were trailing by 19 points and the enormity of the task confronting them would not have been lost on Head Coach Damien Hill when he addressed his troops at the break.

Jarrod Saffy was like a man possessed when play resumed, first gaining plenty of metres when he spotted a gap in the Blues’ line and then setting Fuglistaller up as the Rebels camped on the Blues try line; the Blues defence had held firm against the Stormers last week however, and did so again with the Wellingtonian held up over the line.

Minutes later, Nic Henderson was also held up as the visiting forwards looked to show the way. Like a big cat playing with his food, Higginbotham’s one-handed pick and gos were a highlight and their hard work was finally rewarded when Mitchell crossed for the Rebels’ third try and kept their slim hopes alive.

After this week signing with Hawkes Bay in the ITM Cup competition, Ged Robinson re-acquainted himself with his homeland when he replaced Horie with half an hour of the game remaining. Horie’s ability to consistently get to the breakdown had been impressive, while Gareth Delve also replaced livewire Saffy.

The Rebels were looking especially dangerous in the maul, and Delve became the third Rebel to be held up over the line as the visitors looked to score their fourth try and secure the subsequent bonus point.

They kept their impressive set piece pressure and intensity high from the resulting scrum, and were eventually rewarded as Inman crashed and bashed his way over the try line after receiving from Hegarty. Woodward slotted a difficult kick, his first successful goal kick in Super Rugby, and the deficit was seven points with fifteen minutes remaining.

Former New Zealand U-20 representative Woodward then slotted a penalty goal after Blues run-on debutant Brendan O’Connor, who had been hugely impressive at blindside flanker, was caught offside at the ruck as the Rebels again pushed forward.

But the Blues weren’t done just yet. On a night when the Blues’ young guns had been so impressive, it was the experienced Rene Ranger who sold a great dummy and scored underneath the posts as the Blues were forced to complete multiple phases for one of the few times in this free-running game.

And as they struggled to gain and then keep possession of the ball, it signalled game over for the Rebels 36-32. They never gave in despite their chances of victory slipping further away every minute, and received further consolation when they picked up their second bonus point as Woodward scored while the hooter blared.

A lovely backline set piece ensured that for the second week running the Rebels were on the wrong side of a narrow defeat in an eleven try game, but backline coach Nathan Grey would have been pleased with the execution as Inman laid off the final pass to add a try assist to his own double.

The Rebels discipline across the first 70 minutes was markedly improved from recent performances, only conceding three penalties before a few late in the game as they tried everything to regain possession. However an inability to control the Blues’ lightning quick backline, with three players running over 100 metres with the ball, was the difference. The Rebels’ kicking game also suffered, both in-play and when shooting for goal, in the absence of O’Connor and Beale.

With the British & Irish Lions tour less than a month from kicking off, Wallaby hopefuls Pyle, Inman and Higginbotham again led from the front to ensure they are well and truly in the frame when Wallabies coach Robbie Deans selects his squad for the three test series. Hegarty also maintained his impressive opening for the duration of his time on the pitch, and looks to have a long future at this level.

But the immediate focus shifts to next weekend when the Rebels host South African powerhouse the Stormers at AAMI Park. The Stormers, who would be disappointed with their standing in the competition prior to the match against the Waratahs, are renowned for their tough defence. They also possess their own twin tower locks in Andries Bekker and Eben Eztebeth, with Pyle and Cadeyrn Neville bound to be looking forward to locking horns with them.

Blues 36 – RaboDirect Rebels 32

Blues – tries: Halai (3), Saili (2), Ranger. Conversions: Noakes (3)
RaboDirect Rebels – tries: Inman (2), Mitchell, Woodward. Conversions: Woodward (2). Penalties: Woodward

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